Sarah Dorsett is CEO of Nanit, a high-growth technology start-up improving the sleep and lives of babies and parents. An e-commerce leader with more than two decades of experience scaling retail businesses, Dorsett previously served as Vice President of Ecommerce at Bed Bath & Beyond, where her site merchandising and marketing strategy drove double-digit retail revenue growth. From spearheading e-marketing initiatives in the burgeoning digital industry at Coty in 2004, to her executive roles at Bloomingdales.com and Century 21 Department Stores, Dorsett has developed a highly effective approach to channel strategies that are reflected in Nanit’s leadership in the competitive baby tech category.
Since her time as CEO of Nanit, the company has been named to CNBC’s Upstart 100 list of most promising startups, Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, and most recently received NPD’s Consumer Electronic Industry Performance Award for the top increase in the North American market share in the smart baby monitor category. Aside from her corporate responsibilities, Sarah loves art, dancing, spending time with friends and family, and lives with her husband and three children in Summit, New Jersey.
Like many leaders, Sarah has been CEO-ing from home. She has experienced so much since the start of 2020, like engaging with investors virtually, helping her team feel seen and engaged all while growing the brand to the #1 seat in its category in a global pandemic. Today we are sharing an exclusive interview with Sarah Dorsett about how she’s leading Nanit and more.
How did you lead Nanit to wild success and exceptional growth, even through the challenges of COVID-19 (sales growth 130% year over year, all during COVID!)
Our success comes from listening to our parents – they are the ones who wanted to see us succeed. In the last year, we launched a new version of our camera that enhanced some of the features our families love most, expanded our line of wearables that can monitor breathing motion and introduced Smart Sheets that can track your baby’s growth. We also launched our Nanit Community. During a time where so many parents lost their support systems, we created a space where any parent can come and learn and discuss the parenting issues that concern them and also celebrate the milestones. I think we continued to see growth because expecting and new parents are recognizing that Nanit is much more than a baby monitor. It’s a resource to keep them connected to their baby’s well-being and a support system to help make their job as a parent easier.
How did you learn to fundraise millions (virtually!)? Please share a few great tips.
I was hired by the early investors of Nanit and I learned from them. I was very lucky that they believed in me enough to take the time to do that because it did take time. I knew how to build an incredibly successful business but I knew nothing about the start-up investing world. One of my investors actually spent two hours in a New York restaurant teaching me the fundamentals of Venture versus PE investing. As for tips, since I’m not an expert, what’s served me well is extremely strong listening skills, almost to a fault, then quickly proving that I’m coachable. I ignore the label that usually gets me of “people pleaser” because if I wasn’t coachable that label might be “lost cause.” So I listen to a piece of advice, and sometimes what’s asked of me is terrifying to even think about trying it but I always force myself to jump right in and give it a go so at the very least I can have the “I tried it and here’s what I learned” conversation.
In your own words what do you do?
I become what it takes to successfully build the first and most iconic family brand, at scale.
Do you have anything exciting on the horizon with the brand that you can tell us about?
Everything about this brand excites me. I think you’ll see us doing much more for our parents in a much shorter span of time. Our product launches and partnerships are going to surprise and delight in new ways and our community is going to continue to become the only network with families at the center of the conversation.
Any mistakes you see people make while running a business?
I often see two very common ones and it all ties back to the motivation for why the individual chose to run the business in the first place. First, running a business is not a new frontier or a DIY effort. Understanding what you don’t know and finding and or hiring people whose experience you can trust is absolutely a must. Once you do, it’s not time to become a dictator or to take what you hear and actively choose to ignore it. I’ve watched founders do this and erode the essential trust they need from their team, advisors and investors.
Second, while building a business is truly an art, it’s not a blank canvas. There are some powerful rules that are there for a reason. Breaking all of them is a very cavalier approach with a 1-in-a-million shot at success. So spend a little time choosing which ones you want to put to the test before you blow up the kingdom.
Do you have any special advice for other women out there who might be interested in going into the tech industry?
I would say don’t be intimidated by the industry. You don’t have to be an engineer or have years of experience with consumer electronics. I do however advocate for having a solid understanding of how tech works and how it can solve a problem and from there, learning the right communication skills to effectively present that problem to a technical team. With the right team, and the right mindset, you can accomplish anything.
Do you work with influencers? Do you think this is a great marketing method? Why yes/no
Absolutely a yes BUT I’ve found that the best ones are content creators. If you make a smart and reasonable investment in influencer content creators and then have an amplification strategy there are a lot of opportunities for a successful outcome.
What are your strengths?
My superpowers are strategic vision, creative problem-solving. Those coupled with a healthy dose of grit and a ton of leadership training opportunities are my personal version of success.
When you suffer a setback, how does that emotionally affect you and your work? How do you bounce back from it?
I almost always only look forward. Setbacks and failures are just opportunities to try something new or tell a different story. Rather than bouncing around, my career has evolved steadily over the last 20 years and that build of experience has given me a leg-up when it comes to being able to predict where the next problem might be so I push my teams to get ahead of problems before they actually become insurmountable. For example, we felt the effects of Covid three months before anyone in the US was even talking about it. So by the time it hit the US market, we were prepared. We felt supply chain issues back then too so we put contingency plans in place very early.
Share two pieces of advice for female entrepreneurs/leaders.
Lean into your strengths as a woman. Emotional intelligence supports self-awareness and if used wisely can help you avoid so many of the things that may manifest as fears. If you have a family, you’ll struggle with “mom guilt” but forget about trying to achieve personal and professional balance. Instead, strive for harmony between the two, then you’ll always be in the driver’s seat and you’ll get to define what’s right for you.